Whether he is starting in place of an injured teammate or entering the game off the bench, Norman Powell has been one of the most consistent performers for the Toronto Raptors recently.
While the Raptors navigate a choppy December, with injured stars coming in and out of the lineup as they face a variety of tough opponents, Powell has been a constant. He has averaged 17.7 points this month with three 20-plus point games. His latest was a 25-point showing on Saturday night as he displayed growing confidence as a three-point shooter, and improved decision-making.
Consistency was not a strength of Powell’s during his first four seasons with the Raps. His minutes and his play could be erratic. On any given night, you might see a high-octane scoring performance with buckle-down defence that made him a hero. Or you might see a Powell outing riddled with questionable decisions and lots of turnovers.
He has averaged 30 minutes a night this month, starting the past three games in place of Fred VanVleet who is sidelined with a right knee contusion.
The coaching staff has focused a lot on helping Powell clean up his decision-making, especially when he has the ball in transition. Despite a high-scoring month, Powell said he had been critical of his own ability to limit turnovers – lamenting the five he racked up against the LA Clippers last Wednesday, and the four he tallied against the Philadelphia 76ers a few days earlier (both losses for the Raptors).
He and the coaches have been looking carefully at his in-game decisions during film study.
“It’s a thing I’m consistently trying to get better at – reading the game, making the right read,” Powell said on Saturday after recording just one turnover in Toronto’s 110-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“You look at it closely and you say, 'all right, maybe one less dribble here and I can kick it out here. Maybe if I Euro-stepped here, he wouldn’t maybe take the charge, or I should take my time.’ You watch the film and see where you can get better. In those situations, when they present themselves in a game, you know what to do.”
When Raptors coach Nick Nurse scanned Powell’s stat line Saturday night, he saw the single turnover as proof of much improved decision-making in transition.
“He’s had a few high-turnover games, so the high shooting percentage night and low turnovers – pretty efficient,” Nurse said.
The coach said they’ve been telling Powell that when he gets the ball in the open court he should “be more aggressive and head to the rim instead of trying to figure out where everybody is while you’re heading towards the rim.”
While Powell’s monster breakaway windmill dunk was his flashiest moment over the weekend, his three-point shooting impressed, too. Powell hit five of his seven three-point attempts in Saturday’s game – including three in the Raptors’ impressive 9-of-12 first-quarter. It was a bright spot for a team trying to get over some three-point shooting woes.
“I think he’s vaulting up and shooting that three ball,” Nurse said. “Every time he gets it and vaults up, you’re almost expecting him to make them right now.”
Powell is averaging 14.1 points a game on the season (fourth-best among all Raptors), along with 3.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and one steal a game – all career highs.
Powell has played in all 25 Raptor games. He has the team’s third-most total points (353), behind Pascal Siakam (618) and VanVleet (395). During his 14 starts this season, Powell has averaged 17 points.
The 26-year-old guard has had 16 double-digit scoring performances this season. That includes his career-high 33-point night against the Orlando Magic last month.
“I’m just being aggressive and taking advantage of the opportunity,” Powell said. “It’s all about game-in, game-out, I’m doing whatever it takes to help the team win and whatever the coaches ask of me with the game plan I try to go out and execute and live with the results. I put the work in, I’m confident in myself and I just continue to play.”
Next up for the 17-8 Raptors is a Monday night visit from the 6-20 Cleveland Cavaliers.